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European leaders balk at Saddam death sentence

[JURIST] Several more European leaders voiced concern Monday over the death sentence [JURIST report; BBC Q/A] handed down over the weekend for Saddam Hussein and two co-defendants in the Dujail crimes against humanity case [JURIST news archive; BBC trial timeline]. In a London press conference, UK Prime Minister Tony Blair said the Iraqi High Tribunal's guilty verdict served as a reminder [press release] of the brutality of Hussein's regime, but noted [AP report] that Britain opposes the death penalty, "whether it's Saddam or anyone else." Top officials in the Council of Europe [official website] added that the death penalty "sends a dangerous message to the region" [statement]. Rene van der Linden, president of the COE Parliamentary Assembly, said the sentence announces that "the new Iraq is to be built on vengeance rather than respect for fundamental human values. Iraq today does not need more death. Capital punishment is wrong – even for the worst crimes – and I appeal to the Iraqi authorities not to carry out this sentence." In a separate statement [text], COE Secretary General Terry Davis said that "Saddam Hussein was a ruthless dictator and he must pay for his crimes, but executing him would be futile and wrong. What Iraqi people need is justice not retribution."

Monday's comments followed similarly critical statements [BBC report] Sunday by the Finnish Presidency of the European Union and by Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero, who observed that death penalties are "not provided for in any legal system in the EU or, of course, in our country."

4:55 PM ET - Meeting in Paris Monday, the Italian and French foreign ministers also indicated their countries' opposition to the death penalty in the Saddam case. Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema told reporters that a death sentence would only increase the risk of civil war in Iraq, and said his government had appealed to the Iraqis not to undertake the execution. French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy agreed, citing both security and ethical objections to the death sentence. Reuters has more.

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